Army testing new weapons again...maybe...


July 19, 2007, 12:43 AM
Congress has to approve, and I guess its this week they decide. Anyone know if they already decided?

M4 to face new rifles in dust-chamber test

By Matthew Cox - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Jul 18, 2007 5:35:48 EDT

Yielding to congressional pressure, the Army will conduct a test in August to see if the M4 carbine soldiers take to war is the most reliable weapon available in sand-storm conditions.

The test will compare how the M4 performs against a select group of newer, more compact rifles when exposed to a “dust chamber” at the Army Test and Evaluation Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., said Col. Carl Lipsit, project manager for Soldier Weapons.

M4 to face new rifles in dust-chamber test

“This would be like standing in a [dust storm] for 30 minutes and shaking off your weapon and firing it,” Lipsit said. The test, estimated to cost $500,000, is slated to last five months, he said.

Army Secretary Peter Geren agreed to the request of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to conduct the test after the lawmaker threatened to hold up Geren’s Senate confirmation, according to officials from the senator’s office.

This is the latest round of contention over the M4 carbine since Coburn began questioning the Army three months ago about its plans to spend $375 million to purchase M4s through fiscal 2009. Lighter and more compact than the M16 rifle, the M4 is more effective for the close confines of urban combat. The Army began fielding the M4 in the mid-1990s.

Coburn questioned the M4’s “longstanding reliability” problems in his original April 12 letter and asked if the Army had considered newer, possibly better weapons available on the commercial market.

Sen. Coburn “has lifted his hold on Pete Geren after the Army agreed to do a test of available rifles next month,” Coburn’s press secretary, John Hart, told Army Times on July 11, explaining that one senator has the power to hold up a nomination.

The Senate confirmed Geren as the new Army secretary July 13.

Army public affairs would not comment on statements from Coburn’s office about holding up the confirmation.

Coburn’s office called Geren’s decision a good first step, but “Congress needs to pass legislation to ensure that an open competition actually occurs that puts the best rifle in the hands of our soldiers,” Hart said.

To that end, Coburn’s office will introduce an amendment to the fiscal 2008 Defense Authorization Bill to require the Army to hold a competition, Hart said.

The amendment could go before the Senate for a vote the week of July 16, Hart said. If approved, it will have to survive a conference with the House of Representatives, and President Bush’s final approval of the bill before a carbine competition is required.

Army weapons officials at Fort Benning, Ga.’s Infantry Center — the command responsible for determining soldiers’ weapons needs — continue to argue that the M4 carbine meets the Army’s requirements and see no reason to replace it.

Coburn’s office has criticized the Army for “sole-sourcing” its carbine contracts to Colt Defense instead of searching for alternatives in the small-arms industry.

“Coburn’s goal is to provide our soldiers with the best rifle at the lowest price to taxpayers,” Hart said. “His amendment will ensure that the Army selects a rifle based on a full and open competition, not old habits, convenience or any other parochial interest. Forcing our soldiers to use 1960s equipment is like forcing a football team to use 1960s equipment — it might still work, but in many situations newer equipment is preferable.”
The dust test

The upcoming comparative dust test at Aberdeen will pit the M4 against the Heckler & Koch 416, the H&K XM8 and FNH USA’s Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle, also known as SCAR.

All of the contenders use a piston-style operating system, which relies on a gas-driven piston rod to cycle the weapon during firing.

By contrast, the M4 uses a gas tube system which relies on the gas created when a bullet is fired to cycle the weapon. Weapons experts say that blowing gas directly into the receiver of the weapon spews carbon residue that can lead to fouling and heat that dries up lubrication and causes excessive wear on parts.

The Army’s Delta Force replaced its M4s with the H&K 416 in 2004. The elite unit collaborated with the German arms maker to develop the new carbine. Experts say its piston operating system significantly reduces malfunctions while increasing the life of parts.

Members of the commando unit — known as 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta — have been carrying it in combat since 2004. Other special units, such as the Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, have also adopted the 416.

U.S. Special Operations Command has also revised its small-arms requirements. In November 2004, SOCOM awarded a developmental contract to FN Herstal to develop its new SCAR to replace all of its weapons from the M16 family. The SCAR program is slated to enter the initial operational test-and-evaluation phase of its development later this month.

And from 2002 to 2005, the Army developed the XM8 as a replacement for the conventional Army’s M16 family. The program led to infighting in the service’s weapons community and eventually died after failing to win approval at the Defense Department level.

Colt also has developed two versions of a piston-style carbine. Army officials have not decided if these prototypes will participate in the test, Lipsit said.

The dust test will expose the weapons to the same extreme dust and sand conditions that Army weapons officials subjected the M4 and M16 to during a “systems assessment” at Aberdeen last year, Lipsit said. The results of ATEC assessment show that the performance of M16s and M4s dramatically improved when testers increased the amount of weapons lubrication used.

Ten sample models of each weapon will be tested. Testers will shoot 6,000 rounds though each weapon, Lipsit said.

Test data will be sent to the Infantry Center, which is involved in a Capabilities Based Assessment to decide future small-arms needs of the Army.

“It may or may not result in any type of program of record,” Lipsit said. “This is an assessment of sample weapons ... in an extreme dust environment to find out how far the weapons can go.”

In related news.....
Coburn aims to increase accountability on earmarks
By Kevin Bogardus
July 18, 2007
In a war against an “earmark surge,” a Senate budget hawk is offering an amendment to the defense authorization bill to competitively bid earmarked funds by Congress to help end no-bid contracts.

Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) provision aims to reduce spending but also create a political calculus whereby the earmarking process costs lawmakers with the voting public.

“The larger problem is members believe they have the right to divert defense funds to their own districts to help with their reelection campaigns,” a Coburn spokesman, John Hart, said. “Earmarks, by definition, are no-bid contracts.”

Coburn’s provision is not the only current Senate attempt to reform the contracting process through the defense authorization bill. Nine freshman senators, joined by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), yesterday introduced an amendment to create an independent commission on wartime contracting.

Contracts handed out by the Pentagon in Iraq have led to overspending and poor performance, critics say. Democrats in both the House and the Senate have hammered on a former Halliburton subsidiary, KBR, in particular, for its poor

The Senate freshmen’s amendment would expand the authority of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction to investigate wartime contracting in Afghanistan. In a “Dear Colleague” letter, Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) wrote that the amendment was inspired by the work of the Truman Committee, which they said saved taxpayers more than $174 billion in today’s dollars.

The current Senate defense authorization bill is full of listed earmarked projects — more than $5 billion worth. The vice president for Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS), Steve Ellis, said the process “invites fraud and abuse.”

“If you could remove the ability to short-circuit the acquisition process, you remove the incentive to earmark,” Ellis said.

Some lawmakers have found themselves under federal investigation or incarcerated after earmarking led to no-bid contracts for particular companies — former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), for example, is serving a more than eight-year sentence for crimes related to such efforts.

Coburn’s amendment, if passed, would ensure that all earmarked funds would enter a competitive process. In addition, executive agencies every year would report to Congress to specify the recipients of the funds, the reasons for choosing recipients and the number of entities that competed to earn the funds.

Coburn’s amendment is part of a raft of provisions that target specific programs in the Senate defense authorization bill.

The Oklahoma Republican has targeted funds for the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), a project pushed by Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.). Several members have questioned the usefulness of the center, which is located in Murtha’s Johnstown, Pa., district.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) tried to cut funding for the NDIC but in turn his own earmarked projects allegedly were threatened by Murtha. Rogers earned an apology from the Pennsylvania Democrat for his outburst.

Murtha’s office declined to comment about the Coburn amendment.

With another amendment, Coburn has placed a fellow Senate colleague’s appropriation request in his sights: Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D-Neb.) $7.5 million earmark for 21st Century Systems Inc. (21CSI), a Nebraska-based defense contractor.

A spokesman for Nelson, David DiMartino, argued that Coburn is ignorant of research for national security.

Work done at 21CSI “is reminiscent of the kind of research that won us the space race and the cold war,” DiMartino wrote in an e-mail. “Senator Coburn doesn’t seem to understand that going to war without adequate training tools and
technology would be like performing surgery before diagnosing the ailment.”

According to its website, 21CSI has several military contracts that provide software to the Army and Navy.

Coburn also has filed a provision to open up competition for the Army’s contract to replace its rifles. Concerned about the M4 carbine, Coburn held up the nomination of Army Secretary Peter Geren until the nominee agreed to test the weapon in sandstorm conditions this August, according to a report in The Army Times.

Coburn’s attempts to cut costs often have been unsuccessful. According to the senator’s website, Coburn has had one amendment pass this Congress by a voice vote to cut spending, while four others have been rejected by a wide margin.

Hart argued the Oklahoma Republican’s amendments are beyond simple legislative victories, but rather part of a bigger political effort.

“It is not just about winning the vote but it is about winning the debate with the public and creating a political cost for earmarking,” Hart said. “We lost the vote on ‘the Bridge to Nowhere,’ but I think we won the argument.”

Hart said Coburn’s amendments could be up for debate on the Senate floor today.

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July 19, 2007, 05:32 PM
Wow- they're letting the XM8 in on this? I'm a little surprised those guys haven't been taken out to the woodshed yet...

July 19, 2007, 06:34 PM
As long as we're talking sensitivity to fine sand, is there any reason to think that any of the weapons mentioned will perform significantly differently?

Maybe the SCAR or XM8 will have different areas where the sand likes to sneak into the action, but I can't imagine that the 416 will behave any differently in grit than a direct impingement M-16. It's not like the gas tube gets filled with sand.

I have it on good authority, however, that electronically ignited muzzle loaders are almost immune to sand, as long as you keep a piece of scotch tape over the muzzle. Perhaps those should be the issue rifle instead?

July 19, 2007, 07:46 PM
The results of ATEC assessment show that the performance of M16s and M4s dramatically improved when testers increased the amount of weapons lubrication used.
That's interesting, because it goes against the common wisdom that says don't overlubricate a gun that's going to be used in dusty conditions, because oil will attract dust. I guess oily mud must lubricate better than dust alone...

Bartholomew Roberts
July 19, 2007, 07:56 PM
The oil allows the grit to migrate out of critical areas. At least that was the finding of the Crane dust test comparing dry lubes with wet lubes. CLP was the winner there.

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